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Trade pact is signed, but U.S.-Canada rift remains

Trade pact is signed, but U.S.-Canada rift remains

The brinkmanship leading up to the agreement was bruising
Trade pact is signed, but U.S.-Canada rift remains
President Enrique Peña Nieto, President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sign a new free trade agreement.
Photographer: Tom Brenner/The New York Times

He has called Justin Trudeau “very dishonest and weak.”

He also, perhaps jokingly, accused Canada — which came into formal being in 1867 — of burning down the White House during the War of 1812.

But on Friday, as President Donald Trump, Trudeau and Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, signed a North American trade pact after 14 months of acrimonious negotiations, the leaders of the United States and Canada appeared cordial — Trudeau even addressed his counterpart as “Donald” — even as their words and body language in recent months have suggested that their once-warm rapport had become as icy as a Canadian winter.

In negotiating the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, Canada won concessions, including a dispute-resolution system for companies that feel unfairly targeted with taxes. It will also receive exemptions from any future U.S. tariffs on 2.6 million imported passenger vehicles. In return, Canada agreed to, among other things, Trump’s repeated demands that it crack open its long-protected dairy market.

But the brinkmanship leading up to the agreement was bruising and Trump’s tariffs on Canadian metals remain in place, severely testing the relationship between Canada and its biggest and most important trading partner.

In June, after Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, ended a two-day Group of 7 summit meeting in Charlevoix, Quebec, by saying Canadians “are nice” but wouldn’t be “bullied on trade,” Trump responded on Air Force One by accusing him of being feeble and making false statements.

Just in case the message wasn’t clear, Peter Navarro, the director of the White House trade office, suggested on Fox News Sunday that there was “a special place in hell” for Trudeau.

Canadians were irate. Trudeau, who attracts adulation on the global stage, is a sometimes polarizing figure at home and he faces an election next year. But Trump’s barrage of insults momentarily united most Canadians behind him and his approval ratings jumped.

Some Canadians even canceled summer vacations in Maine or California and boycotted U.S. products like Twizzlers. Others insisted on using Canadian-produced kidney beans to make “Trump-free chilli.”

Senior Canadian officials said privately that Trudeau had not been swayed by Trump’s insults, feeling confident that Canada’s view of an open, multilateral world order was the right path forward. Across the country and in the corridors of Ottawa, there was quiet satisfaction that self-effacing Canada had stood up to Trump, and had not allowed itself to be pushed around.

Trudeau and Trump have become foils for one another internationally. Trudeau is a telegenic figure who speaks carefully and espouses liberal internationalism, women’s rights, the benefits of immigration and the fight against climate change. Trump, whose own aides are often caught off guard by his brash, unpredictable remarks, advocates “America first,” has attacked women by insulting their looks, disparages migrants and has sought to undermine international accords to fight global warming.

Even their contrasting reactions to bad weather have gained international attention. Earlier this month, Trump drew criticism after deciding not to visit a World War I cemetery because of poor weather during a trip to France to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the war. Soon, a video of Trudeau braving the pouring rain during an August 2017 commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Dieppe raid in World War II went viral on Twitter.

Many Canadians regard Trump as a bully, a perception that intensified after Trump in May slapped punishing steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada. Trump framed the move as necessary for national security, prompting Canada’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, to retort that “the national security pretext is absurd and frankly insulting to Canadians.” Canada retaliated with import duties on $12.6 billion of U.S. products, including ballpoint pens and industrial pipes.

Trump has said he does not like Ms. Freeland “very much,” but Canadian officials said that she and Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative, became friendly over their many months of talks. Ms. Freeland, an avid internationalist, even hosted Lighthizer, an exponent of “America First,” at her home in Toronto a few weeks ago, serving him beef from her native Alberta.

Days before the new pact was to be signed, the Canadians had not posted a version of it on their government website. The Americans had made it public. Canadian officials said a team of lawyers had been “scrubbing the deal” assiduously to make sure that it matched what was agreed upon. But they stressed that this was not surprising, given that it usually took a year for lawyers to go through hefty trade deals, and in this case, they had only had two months.

Among the areas getting the most scrutiny were concessions over Canada’s protection of its dairy market, including reducing barriers for American farmers to sell cheese, milk and other products to Canada. Canada’s protection of its dairy products had been a favorite punching bag of Trump. Alluding to the policy in a tweet in June, he wrote: “Tax Dairy from us at 270%. Then Justin acts hurt when called out!”

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